Logging Companies Have Little Choice But To Adapt

dcIn 1988 the Alberta government granted to Daishowa Canada (a predecessor to Daishowa-Marubeni) logging rights to a massive tract of land east of Peace River in exchange for building a $650-million pulp mill. However, the tract included a 4,000-square-mile area claimed by the Lubicon, who were in the midst of a 50-year-old land claims dispute with Ottawa and the province.

That year, Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak met with Daishowa officials in Vancouver. The chief ended the meeting believing he had a verbal promise that Daishowa would not log until the land claim was settled. Daishowa claims the meeting was merely an introduction. The company was preparing to log in the disputed area in 1991, but about then, explains Mr. Thomas, a Friend noticed that a bag from a pizza joint carried a Daishowa logo, having come from a Daishowa Inc. plant in Winnipeg. (The Japanese-based Daishowa Paper Manufacturing Co. Ltd. owns Daishowa Inc. and half of Daishowa-Marubeni.)

The Friends wrote to dozens of Daishowa customers; each letter alleged that the proposed logging was a betrayal by Daishowa and constituted “genocide” of the Lubicon. Failure to confirm participation in the boycott would result in pickets, the letter warned. Daishowa removed its label from its bags, but the Friends managed to keep finding Daishowa customers. How they did it is a “trade secret,” says Mr. Thomas.

Over the next four years the Friends targeted 50 Daishowa clients, all of them major retailers, including Country Style Donuts, Mr. Submarine, Bootlegger, A&W, Club Monaco, and Holt Renfrew. All but two stopped using Daishowa bags after the first letter. Many cared little about the Lubicon and were satisfied with the bags but preferred to avoid controversy. Only Woolworth’s and an Ontario chain called Pizza Pizza held out, briefly, until Friends picketed their stores dressed as trees while another went among them with a chainsaw.

dmgDaishowa-Marubeni considers the whole boycott grossly unfair, complains general manager Jim Morrison, considering the company voluntarily stayed out of the disputed area the whole time: “We’re the only forestry company in the world that has been targeted for not logging.” In 1995 the company sued the Friends, claiming that the “secondary picketing” was illegal and that the Friends were defaming Daishowa. After a lengthy trial, the decision was released last April.

Justice James MacPherson ruled that the Friends defamed Daishowa by claiming that the company was engaged in genocide and awarded $1 in damages, which is all Daishowa was seeking. However, the picketing itself was “lawful in a democratic society which values free speech,” he wrote, and refused to forbid it.

In May the province agreed to negotiate to replace any timber rights Daishowa-Marubeni might lose in the disputed area with timber rights elsewhere. Consequently, on May 20 the company committed itself to not log there until the land claim is settled. On June 12 the Friends ended the boycott. Daishowa spokesman Tom Cochran estimates that the affair cost the company over $15 million.

Greenpeace’s $100-million European campaign against MacBlo has not ended officially, but at a press conference three weeks ago Vancouver Greenpeacers toasted with champagne the announcement of president Tom Stephens that MacBlo will phase out clear-cutting over five years. It will adopt “variable retention logging” which will leave forested areas of varying sizes untouched, depending on the type of forest.

The decision follows years of intense Greenpeace campaigning in Europe against Canadian firms. This spring alone, demonstrators have protested outside Canadian embassies in European cities, blockaded pulp plants, and boarded a Canadian timber ship. Also this spring, several U.K. firms, including major home improvement chains Do It All and Sainsbury Homebase, have announced that they will purchase wood products solely from ecologically-certified firms–ruling out clear-cut wood from old-growth forests.

“We have not been victims of a boycott,” insists MacBlo vice-president of public affairs Alan Stubbs. Rather, the company is trying to meet the demands of its customers. “There’s a trend here,” he says, “and we can either follow the trend or get ahead of it.” He declines to estimate the cost to MacBlo of the Greenpeace campaign.

MacBlo says that abandoning clear-cutting will raise costs from about $120 to $124 per cubic metre of wood. But as B.C. forestry firms pointed out last week, if MacBlo finds a market for premium-priced eco-friendly products, everybody else will follow suit. “MacBlo sees this as a way of satisfying its customer base, and that’s a good thing,” comments Anne McMullin, media manager for the Forest Alliance of B.C. “It’s a marketing issue. Whether it is sound environmental practice is something we’ll find out.”

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